College Football Betting Odds Week 1: Picks Against the Spread for Top Games

Alex Ballentine@Ballentine_AlexFeatured ColumnistSeptember 3, 2020

Memphis quarterback Brady White (3) looks to pass against Penn State during the first half in the NCAA Cotton Bowl college football game, Saturday, Dec. 28, 2019, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Jim Cowsert)
Jim Cowsert/Associated Press

College football makes its triumphant return on Labor Day weekend with a shortened schedule before the majority of teams make their debut in Week 2. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has severely altered the original Week 1 schedule. The FCS got started with Austin Peay vs. Central Arkansas last weekend, and the Group of 5 will now take center stage, with American Athletic Conference and Conference USA teams starting their campaigns for a New Year's Six bowl invite. 

No Top 25 team is scheduled to play this weekend. But with the Big 10 and Pac-12 seasons still up in the air and delayed, there are opportunities for some of the teams playing this weekend to get in on the rankings fairly early this season. 

Here's a look at what the complete slate looks like along with the early lines and predictions for the biggest games of the weekend. 


Week 1 Schedule All times ET

Thursday, September 3 

Central Arkansas at UAB (N/A): 8 p.m. on ESPN 3

South Alabama at Southern Miss (-14.5): 9 p.m. on CBS Sports Network


Saturday, September 5

Eastern Kentucky at Marshall (N/A): 1 p.m. on ESPN

Middle Tennessee at Army (-3.5): 1:30 p.m. on CBS Sports Network

SMU (-22) at Texas State: 4:30 p.m. on ESPN

Houston Baptist at North Texas (N/A): 7:30 p.m. on ESPN3

Arkansas State at Memphis (-19): 8 p.m. on ESPN

Stephen F. Austin at UTEP (N/A): 9 p.m. on ESPN3


Monday, September 7

BYU at Navy (pick 'em): 8 p.m. on ESPN

All odds via Caesars Palace 


Games to Watch

Middle Tennessee at Army

If you enjoy running quarterbacks, this is the game for you. 

Obviously Army's signal-caller will run the ball plenty. They are back with the triple-option attack once again, and while Jabari Laws only attempted 20 passes last season as the primary backup, he'll take the reins of the offense this year and has already shown off his abilities as a runner. 

The Checkdown @thecheckdown

Jabari Laws CANNOT be stopped 😱 https://t.co/OsCiS7QTg1

He made five starts last season and ran for 484 yards on 76 carries while completing 16 of his 20 passes. 

Sandon McCoy returns for his senior season as the B-back and should see plenty of work. He was third on the team in rushing last season but will key the option attack after the loss of Connor Slomka last season. 

On the other side of the ball, the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders were led in rushing by quarterback Asher O'Hara, who is once again under center. He rushed for over 1,000 yards last season and has the second-highest yards after contact for any non-running back since 2018, per PFF

Unfortunately for the Blue Raiders, they are coming off one of their worst seasons in Rick Stockstill's long tenure there. The run defense was 108th in the country. 

While that's almost certainly going to improve, kicking the season off against run-heavy Army isn't going to help. The Blue Raiders didn't face a triple-option team last season, so stopping the offensive philosophy will be unfamiliar. 

Unless Army looks out of sorts with turnovers, it should be able to control the pace of the game and win its home opener. 

Prediction: Army 31, Middle Tennessee 21


Arkansas State at Memphis

Jerry Palm of CBS Sports' latest bowl projections have the Memphis Tigers as one of two teams who will get to play in the New Year's Six bowls. With the Tigers expected to challenge Cincinnati to be the highest-ranked Group of 5 team, the expectations are high. 

Some of that hype is hurt by running back Kenneth Gainwell opting out of the season following his 1,459-yard, 13-touchdown campaign last season. But this is a program that has churned out NFL draft picks in running backs Tony Pollard and Antonio Gibson, so it won't be surprising if Kylan Watkins, Rodrigues Clark or Auburn transfer Asa Martin seamlessly step into the role. 

The passing game should be a strength for Memphis regardless. Brady White returns at quarterback for what seems like his 20th consecutive season, and he is one of the most seasoned passers in college football.

Ralph D. Russo @ralphDrussoAP

It has dawned on me that Memphis QB Brady White, if he chooses, could return to school again next year and end up playing 4 seasons with the Tigers AFTER being a graduate transfer from Arizona State. It would be his 7th year on a major college football roster.

The 24-year-old will also get his first option in the passing game, Damonte Coxie, back for another season. He had over 1,000 yards receiving last year, and they should be one of the best quarterback-receiver duos in the conference. 

Arkansas State had one of the most prolific passing attacks in the nation, and both quarterbacks who appeared behind center return in Logan Bonner and Layne Hatcher. 

Head coach Blake Anderson loves to air it out, and both quarterbacks are capable of putting the team in a position to win. Eight returning starters on the defensive side of the ball means they have the experience to at least slow the Memphis offense at times. 

There should be plenty of points scored in this one. While the Tigers probably have more firepower, there's too much offensive ability on both sides to not simply take the points here. 

Prediction: Memphis 42, Arkansas State 31


BYU at Navy

This is the crown jewel of the weekend slate and fittingly the last game on the schedule. BYU and Navy will serve as the perfect end to your Labor Day weekend on Monday night. 

Where Navy football goes without Malcolm Perry is one of the most intriguing questions of the weekend. The dynamic quarterback had a legendary career with the Midshipmen, but head coach Ken Niumatalolo will now turn the offense over to senior Dalen Morris, who will have one year to make his mark as the starter. 

Morris started camp as the third quarterback on the depth chart but impressed in training and took the job. 

"He's come to camp and been a man on a mission," offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper said of Morris, per Bill Wagner of the Capital Gazette. "Dalen came in with purpose and took the position. He's been really, really good at every single practice."

Navy will take on a BYU squad that was decent against the run last season, surrendering 4.23 yards per carry. 

The Cougars will also feature a quarterback who came out on top in a three-man position battle this summer. Zach Wilson will take the helm after 18 games' worth of experience. He's thrown for 23 touchdowns and 12 interceptions in his freshman and sophomore seasons. 

The BYU defense will have to get strong, disciplined play out of its front seven to win. Senior linebackers Isaiah Kaufusi and Kavika Fonua will have to lead the way if the Cougars are to pick up a win in the season opener. 

This should be a nail-biter between two relatively even teams, but Navy having the benefit of playing at home could be the difference. 

Prediction: Navy 24, BYU 21